|Subject: CONG: Senator Reed (D-RI)
Celebrates ET Independence
CELEBRATION OF EAST TIMOR'S INDEPENDENCE -- (Senate - May 21, 2002)
Mr. REED. Mr. President, I rise to recognize the new nation of East Timor.
I want to congratulate and honor the people of East Timor for their perseverance and triumph of freedom in the face of tremendous odds. However, while we celebrate this victory we also must remember the long and arduous road by which they arrived here and recognize the challenging road which lies ahead. East Timor's road to independence--achieved on May 20, 2002--has been marked by years of suffering. Indonesia invaded East Timor shortly after Portugal withdrew in 1975 and forcefully tried to subdue a resentful people. Many suffered and died during Indonesia's 25-year occupation which ended in 1999.
Indonesia finally agreed 2 years ago to a referendum on independence for the East Timorese people. When the
referendum showed overwhelming support for independence, Indonesian loyalists murdered hundreds and reduced towns to ruins.
An international peacekeeping force halted the mayhem and paved the way for the United Nations to help East Timor back onto its feet. With U.N. assistance, the East Timorese have been rebuilding their nation. They have held their first democratic election, drafted and adopted their country's first constitution, and adopted their national flag and national anthem. On May 20, 2002, the United Nations handed over the reins to the newly established democratic government, and East Timor stands on its feet as the first new, free nation of the millennium.
Although the rebuilding of East Timor has been one of the U.N.'s more successful stories, East Timor is expected to remain reliant on outside help for many years since its poor infrastructure has been destroyed and it is drought-prone. According to a recent report, 41 percent of East Timorese live in poverty and 48 percent are illiterate. East Timor also faces the challenge of repatriating a large refugee population--approximately 55,000 East Timorese refugees continue to live in deplorable conditions in an environment of intimidation in Indonesia.
With this situation in mind, the world community's support for East Timor's future is critical over the next several years. The U.S. should work with the U.N. and its members to make sure the job of preparing East Timor for self-rule is completed. The U.S. and the world should ensure that children receive a quality education, adequate healthcare and shelter, and that other needs for a decent standard of living are met. This is especially crucial in light of the recently released UNDP report that classified East Timor as one of the 20 poorest countries in the world and the poorest in Asia.
It is equally important though, for East Timor to focus on the future. Now that the East Timorese people have their own independent nation they will need peaceful and constructive relations with their neighbor Indonesia and the international family of peaceful nations. I wish their new president, Mr. Xanana Gusmao, well as he continues to advocate a policy of reconciliation with Indonesia. He has said that his country must move on from the past and focus on issues such as education and healthcare.
Mr. Gusmao's vision and the will of the East Timorese people provide great hope and potential for East Timor as it faces these challenges. And as they do, let them know that the U.S. and other free, democratic nations will continue to offer our friendship and steadfast support.
So it is with great pride and honor that I recognize the dogged determination and perseverance of the East Timorese people, congratulate them on the birth of their free and democratic nation--the first new nation of this new millennium, and welcome them into the family of peaceful nations.
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